Tackling the dental assistant shortage: CDA resources, support and legislative action

October 26, 2023

Finding and onboarding dental assistants can be challenging in today's market. The need for dental assistants in the state is forecast to increase by 16.5% (8,100 jobs) between 2016 and 2026, outpacing the average growth rate for all occupations in California, according to the California Employment Development Department. The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute reports that “Vacant positions in dental assisting and dental hygiene have reduced dental practice capacity by an estimated 10% nationally.”

What factors are influencing the increasing call for dental assistants?

As the average age of the population rises, the demand for dental services also rises, becoming a major driver of job growth for dental assistants in the state. The more people who gain access to dental care through Medi-Cal, the higher the need for trained dental assistants. Additionally, the pandemic brought changes to the way treatment is delivered and affected the demand for dental services, which in turn has impacted the job market.

DA staffing support and training options for CDA members

Dental assistants play a critical role in patient care and smooth practice operations. CDA members benefit from easy-to-implement training programs and staffing support plus legislative efforts pursued on behalf of California practices.

The CDA Foundation in September was awarded a $5 million High Road Training Partnerships grant from the state. The grant will be administered by CDA in partnership with Jewish Vocational Services to train more than 200 dental assistants over the two-year grant term. The grant will provide funding for dental assistant training initiatives, including the expansion of Smile Crew CA bootcamps, RDA licensure support and regional training events in partnership with the components.

Smile Crew Bootcamp. CDA is building staffing pipelines with this accelerated training program. Smile Crew CA Bootcamps are held in select locations throughout California in partnership with local workforce boards and training providers. Bootcamp participants learn the skills needed for a career in dental assisting and can fill open positions at member-dentists’ practices.

Dental Assistant Online Training Curriculum. The best assistants might be the ones you train yourself! CDA has developed a 12-week interactive on-demand learning program based on Smile Crew CA curriculum, and it’s offered to members at nominal cost. Dental practices can provide on-the-job training in core DA competencies — even for staff without prior dental experience.

Dental Assistant Training Roadmap. An effective hiring process is the first step to retaining employees. The Dental Assistant Training Roadmap is a comprehensive set of materials to lead practice owners through a six-week process – starting with the employment application through recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training and retaining a new dental assistant.

Legislative action. CDA is pursuing both immediate and long-term solutions through recruitment and training programs, legislation, and state budget funding to improve dental career pipeline opportunities.

CDA has been working with dental specialty organizations and other stakeholders to develop a proposal that will allow RDAs to become fully trained and licensed more quickly while maintaining quality of care. CDA's ongoing legislative advocacy is targeted to ensuring the dental assisting career ladder provides meaningful career growth opportunity and is attractive to those entering the dental workforce.

On-demand education and training for all practice team members

Even unlicensed dental assistants play an important role in supporting licensed dental professionals. While they are not eligible to perform certain advanced procedures, their skills and knowledge are integral to providing patient care, infection control and the overall function of the office. The following requirements must be met to achieve licensure:

  • A board-approved course in the Dental Practice Act.
  • A board-approved 8-hour course in infection control.
  • A course in basic life support offered by an instructor approved by the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association or any other course approved by the board as equivalent and that provides the student the opportunity to engage in hands-on simulated clinical scenarios.

CDA's convenient on-demand Online Learning courses can help all team members, including unlicensed dental assistants, build skills and will also help them meet the necessary requirements for certification and continuing education.

The courses cover subjects like infection control (for license renewal) and bloodborne pathogens and are regularly revised to reflect any changes in dentistry standards or regulations, ensuring that practice team members are well-prepared to provide safe and efficient patient care. What’s more, dental assistants and other practice team members can access the courses at their own pace, making it easy to balance work and education.

Learn more about the dental assistant training options and on-demand courses available through CDA.


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